It’s been over 460 days of bargaining between Turlock teachers and the Turlock Unified School District and there’s still no contract to show for the efforts, causing over 100 instructors and allies to make their voices heard both outside and inside of Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting.
“What do we want?” Turlock Teachers Association President Christine Rowell asked the crowd gathered outside TUSD’s Professional Development Center earlier this week, where meetings are held.
“Respect!” Turlock teachers shouted back.
“When do we want it?” Rowell asked.
It’s a cry that has been ongoing since negotiations began in November 2017. Teachers feel their demands for a fair contract, which include compensation for outside-of-class duties, better health benefits, discretionary sick days, a strict cap on class size and reverence of teachers with seniority, have not been completely met, Rowell said.
After meeting 11 times since last November, TTA and TUSD reached a tentative agreement in May 2018, but following an 82 percent “no” vote from teachers the contract was not ratified. Since then, the two groups have met at the table again, this time in June, but no agreement was reached yet again. Both parties will meet with a state-appointed mediator for the third time on Oct. 10.
“Simply stated, the District and TTA have not been able to agree upon what is defined as a fair contract,” TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources David Lattig said. “The District feels that a fair contract was decided upon in May, but TTA members disagree.”
While some issues raised by TTA have been improved upon since May, Rowell said, such as compensation for additional work from teachers, including professional development courses and other duties (compensation for instructors came only after teachers began turning down the opportunities, Rowell added), as well as improvement on class sizes, there is still much that the union would like to see in a contract.
Brown Elementary School teacher Sarah Edeal spoke during Tuesday’s Board meeting about inequality for parental leave, stating that she had to use sick days while she was in the hospital giving birth while her male colleagues receive paid time off to be with their newborns. Teaching mothers in TUSD begin using sick leave the moment they have to take time off for birth, while in comparison, teaching fathers with newborns at home receive three days bonding time, as do adoptive parents.
“We feel that’s highly inequitable,” Rowell said.
According to Lattig, historically, expecting mothers automatically use their Pregnancy Disability Leave once their doctors put them on such leave. To allow fathers to be there without losing pay, TUSD created Paternity Leave, which has since evolved into three days of paid leave.
“New laws now allow for fathers to take leave for such circumstances,” Lattig said. “The District is fully aware of the inequity in contract language and has made efforts to equalize.”
TTA would also like to see their 10 sick days per year be accepted as discretionary leave — not just for days that teachers are genuinely sick. Many teachers have families at home, Rowell said, and sometimes, it’s necessary for a teacher to take a day off to care for a child or other emergencies.
“People needing to take sick days off for their sick children isn’t covered,” she said. “Under that, you’re forced to either lie to stay home and take care of your children or lose pay.”
A main concern among the majority of TTA is TUSD’s health benefits. The cost of care is expensive in TUSD, Rowell said, and because there is no mandatory enrollment, costs are skewed. Without everyone participating in the program, prices go up.
Included in the May 2018 agreement, among other additions and increases was a salary increase by 2 percent, retroactive to July 1, 2017, as well as an increase to the health benefit cap by $1,205, bringing the annual health benefit cap to $9,329. A paid preparation day for involuntary, on-site relocation was added, as well as added language pertaining to special education standards, Professional Learning Communities, class sizes and criteria for courses or training for salary advancement, among other additions and agreements.
“The District is of the opinion that TTA rejected the contract because of their concerns related to salary and benefits,” Lattig said. “Although the District’s offer related to salary and benefits would give our teachers the highest daily total compensation in Stanislaus County at the beginning and toward the end of the salary schedule, TTA does not feel the offer is fair.”
The District currently offers members an annual health benefit cap of $8,124.00 to be used toward their health insurance premiums. Members hired prior to July 1, 2016 have a cash-out option of $5,906 and members hired after July 1, 2016 have a cash-out option of $3,000. An additional $1,205 per year was part of the signed agreement, which would have brought TTA members annual health benefit cap to $9,329.
According to Rowell, while there is still no contract between the two parties, progress has been made. TTA doesn’t necessarily feel disrespected, she added, but rather uses the term as a way to make the Board and Administration listen to their needs.
“The issue of respect means something different to almost every teacher you ask. When you’re hearing a request to be respected or valued, it means we want to be heard. Teachers aren’t just going to take the same old same old,” Rowell said. “If I had a magic wand and could say, ‘Poof, this is what I want,’ it would be a TA that addresses the priorities of our teachers, then to get message out, ratify it and get started on this year’s negotiations.”
Ahead of the mediated meeting on Oct. 10, Lattig hopes for the same.
“The District values our hard-working teachers and will continue to work through mediation to agree upon a fair contract that promotes high standards for all,” he said. “The District believes respect is also found outside of negotiations, mediation and even the collective bargaining agreement. Respect is found in the way all members of TUSD work together as a team to provide the highest level of education our students deserve.”